Friday, April 20, 2012

Anti-Vaxxers and the "Autism Epidemic"

The antivaccine movement resurrects the zombie that is the "autism epidemic"
from Respectful Insolence

If there's one thing that I've learned that I can always--and I do mean always--rely on from the antivaccine movement, it's that its members will always be all over any new study regarding vaccines and/or autism in an effort to preemptively put their pseudoscientific spin on the results. It's much the same way that they frequently storm into discussion threads after stories and posts about vaccines and autism like the proverbial flying monkeys, dropping their antivaccine poo hither and yon all over science-based discussions. If these commenters weren't there, I couldn't manage because dealing with the antivaccine trolls is so time-consuming. I can either lay down the near-daily dose of Insolence, both Respectful and not-so-Respectful, that you all crave, or I can dive into comment threads and refute all the antivaccine nonsense being laid down by some of my more prominent trolls. I can't do both.

In any case, antivaxers are also known for not respecting embargoes. They infiltrate their way into mailing lists for journalists in which newsworthy new studies are released to the press before they actually see print and then flood their propaganda websites with their spin on the studies, either attacking the ones they don't like or trying to imprint their interpretation on ones on which they can, all before the skeptical blogosophere has a chance to post about them. Such is the price of being honorable and honoring embargoes. So it was yesterday, when vaccine-autism cranks jumped the embargo on a CDC study released yesterday that announced new autism prevalence numbers. This is nothing new; it's the antivaccine movement's modus operandi, which makes me wonder why the various journals don't shut off the flow. The study, of course, was announced in press conferences and a number of news stories. No doubt many of you have seen them. They focus on the key finding of the CDC study, which is that the prevalence of autism in the U.S. has risen to approximately 1 in 88.

Before I dig into the report a bit more and discuss the reaction of the antivaccine movement to it, let's first note one thing that you will not (and I did not) see in the various hysterical reactions to the study that I've seen thus far. You will not see any of the usual suspects emphasize mercury in the thimerosal preservative that used to be used in vaccines in the context of the report (although one does foolishly mention it, see below). The reason is obvious. If autism prevalence is still rising (or even if it's staying the same), it's yet another death blow to the hypothesis that mercury in vaccines causes autism. After all, thimerosal was removed from nearly all pediatric vaccines back in 2001.
As always, it's worth to read in its entirety.

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